Northwell Health is urging others in the healthcare industry to follow the healthcare group’s lead in treating gun violence as a health issue.
In December, Northwell Health President and CEO Michael Dowling challenged fellow leaders of major healthcare corporations to match the $1 million he pledged to help combat gun violence. And in February, Dowling addressed an emergency medicine symposium about gun violence along with Fred Guttenberg, an East Northport native who dedicated himself to battling gun violence after his daughter was killed in the Parkland massacre.
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“People talk about gunshot victims,” said Guttenberg, aiming to humanize the topic that can be abstract to many. “They were living and breathing and loving and being loved on. And like that, in a second it’s over.”
His 14-year-old daughter, Jaime Guttenberg — along with 16 other students and staff of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. — lost her life to a 19-year-old gunman who opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle on February 14, 2018.
Guttenberg made his comments at the Seventh Annual Emergency Medicine Interest Group Symposium, sponsored by the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra-Northwell. The topic was the Role of Policy, Advocacy, and Gun Violence in Emergency Medicine. Guttenberg’s visit was part of his campaign for gun safety and Northwell Health’s effort to mobilize the healthcare industry to reduce gun violence as a health hazard.
The annual death toll due to guns in the United States last year topped 40,000, surpassing those due to car collisions.
“This is about people and the effect on families and the community in general,” Dowling told the group. “It’s not only the mass shootings. It’s gun violence every day in cities and localities and rural areas all over the country.”
Northwell in December 2019 hosted a Gun Violence Prevention Forum, and is creating a Center for Gun Violence Prevention, which Dowling says “will help shape the role that Northwell and other health systems can play in advancing safety, education, prevention and research.”
“If vaping is a health issue, gun violence is a health issue,” Dowling said. “If ill effects from putrid water are a public health issue, why is the result of gun violence not a public health issue?”
Dr. Jeffrey Oestreicher, chair of the New York State American Academy of Pediatrics’ gun violence prevention program, said the Dickey Amendment in 1996 indicated the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s funds for injury prevention couldn’t be used to “advocate or promote gun control.”
“It didn’t literally ban gun violence research,” he said. “It banned advocacy. But its real intent and one it achieved was to scare researchers and the federal government.”
That led to a de facto ban on federally funded gun violence research until Congress in 2019 appropriated $25 million for the CDC and National Institute of Health to fund gun violence prevention research.
“If you can change the debate, change the articulation of the issue to a public health issue, you potentially can get more public traction rather than focusing on the Second Amendment,” Dowling said. “In my view, that’s a separate issue. We should be focusing on safety.”
While Northwell officials looked at the larger issues, ranging from statistics to solutions to improve safety, Guttenberg put a personal face on gun violence. He created Orange Ribbons for Jaime honoring his daughter’s memory and Orange Ribbons for Gun Safety, advocating for gun safety.
“My daughter’s favorite color was orange,” he said, wearing an orange ribbon and bracelet. “From the night she was killed, friends from the dance studio came over wearing orange ribbons.”
They made thousands of orange ribbons for attendees to wear at Jaime’s funeral. When someone at a supermarket asked Guttenberg what the ribbon was for, he learned he was closer than he realized to a cause.
“They said that’s the color of the gun safety movement,” Guttenberg said. “I didn’t know that. I just knew it was Jaime’s favorite color.”